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Friday, March 11, 2011

Heraldry and Women

Last night's salon evening was a true collaboration between our Scottish members and our Montreal members. Thanks to Skype technology, we were able to beam Lanark, Scotland into our salon and enjoy a fabulous presentation on Scottish Heraldry from wwp member Kim Nicoll. Though the 5 hour time difference meant that Kim was burning the midnight oil as she clarified the difference between a coat of arms and a lozenge, a rampant lion and a unicorn, a motto and a supporter, she managed to keep us all riveted as she regaled us with tales from Scottish lore and provided telling insights into our Montreal members' family coat of arms.

The paucity of female representation within the domain of Heraldry prompted a counter-exploration of banners and placards from the women's suffragette movement and this in turn provided the perfect segue into Linnet's discussion of how symbolism has been conceptualized within the largely masculinist tradition of Western philosophy.

Starting with the etymology of the term symbolism, Linnet led us through the creation of a symbolon - an inscribed shard of pottery that was reminiscent of those used by the Ancient Greeks to recognize an alliance between city states, and from which the term originates. A glimpse at the work of Ernst Cassirer (1874 - 1945) - known as the father of symbolism - and of Jacques Lacan's (1901 - 1981) framing of the Symbolic Order (into which we are inducted with our acquisition of language as children), left us eager to find out more about a feminine approach to symbolism. This we found in the work of French feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray (1932- ) who encourages us to draw on our bodily experience of the world and our sense of touch in creating language that "speaks as woman" and in working towards a symbolic support system that subverts "the master discourse" of philosophy.

After a brief exploration of how certain symbols have been misappropriated and reappropriated through the twentieth century - and by this time fully aware of the power and potency that symbols within our culture carry - Rona got us designing our own emblems. These emblems incorporated the qualities that were important to each of us and used words, images, textures and colours to do this. No two end results were alike and the exercise unleashed an exciting wave of creative and immersive participation... Luce Irigaray would not have been disappointed!

A very special thanks to Kim who ended up staying with us until her 3am (!) and whose depth of knowledge, and passion in sharing that knowledge, exemplifies everything that wwp hopes to be.
Thanks also to our fantastic members who made it here on a miserable winter's night. Their dedication was not only rewarded with an excellent salon but also, with scones, jam and Devonshire cream! Our next salon evening is scheduled for May 5th and is entitled "The Invisible Matron." We look forward to seeing you visibly represented at it!